A cup of citronelle

Lemongrass, AKA citronelle in francophone countries. I love this grass. In stores, I often see teas that market themselves as ‘lemongrass tea,’ or I come across packets of dried lemongrass. Unfortunately, these are just too weak if you’re used to freshly cut stalks. Fortunately, it’s an easy plant to keep; it grows nicely in pots, and almost too well in the ground.

My family’s always kept citronelle in the garden. It does well here, thanks to the Sunshine State’s warm, humid climate. Ours is kept in a pot, and it’s always got enough stalks for a big pot of tea.

Citronelle in pot

I came across some recipes for citronelle tea online–they’ve got a bunch of unnecessary steps: there’s all this business about peel this off to avoid bitterness and toxicity yada yada yada, and use only this part of the stalk and cut that part of the grass up into little tiny pieces, and blah blah blah. Then most of these people have you pouring boiling water over cut-up dried bits of lemongrass and letting that steep for five minutes before drinking. Well, we were never aware of toxicity and bitterness, so neither we nor anyone we knew ever did any of that. And only five minutes of contact between the grass and the hot water–why even bother? Just take some scissors or a sharp knife, grab a small handful of fresh stalks and make a clean cut at the base of the stalks. Rinse them and tie them in a bunch and put it in a kettle or pot with water, and then turn on the heat. I let it go at a rolling boil for about ten minutes, then turn off the heat and let it steep for as long as I can wait  to get a rich golden color and super concentrated lemongrass flavor. I usually put brown sugar in mine since this is a tea that I like sweet. This is how I’ve drunk fresh lemongrass tea my entire life and I’m alive and kicking. Oh, so get yourself a lemongrass plant.

Lemongrass knot

A cup of citronelle briefly takes me to Haiti, where this tea is a diet mainstay. The unmistakable smell and flavor call to mind quiet peaceful moments on that island–moments that are few and far between in my mother country these days.

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